Ten years ago, when a pair of planes flew headlong into the World Trade Center on a bright, blue September morning, the unprecedented attacks inspired fear, rage, sadness, paranoia and, yes, artists who put all these intense emotions to music. To mark the anniversary of this dreadful day one decade ago, we look at the songs of 9/11 that rose up out of the rubble.
'The Rising'/'My City of Ruins'
After watching the towers fall from his New Jersey home, Springsteen penned 'The Rising,' a religious-tinged reflection on the events of the day that focuses on a firefighter at Ground Zero. The song and 'My City of Ruins,' (actually written about Asbury Park in 2000), became anthems of mourning and healing in the wake of the attacks, giving the Boss his best-selling album since 1987's 'Tunnel of Love.'
'Hunting for Witches'
Ground Zero may have been in Lower Manhattan, but 9/11 impacted everywhere – not least the UK, where bands like Bloc Party recognized the post-terror paranoia having grown up during the height of the IRA bombings. Kele Okereke recognized how watching "airplanes crash into towers" on TV and subsequent media fear-mongering could turn "an ordinary man with ordinary desire" against his fellow citizens while railing against the right's anti-Muslim witch hunts.
Moby ft. Sinead O'Connor
On the morning of his birthday, Moby woke up to the sounds of explosions and screams. From his roof near the WTC, he watched both towers burn. Those memories infused his 2002 song, on which Sinead O'Connor's haunting vocals warn of more violence: "The street bears no relief/ When everybody's fighting." Five years after 9/11, that targic prophecy had come to pass. "The terrible irony of 9/11 is that it's ended up hurting the rest of the world much more than it ended up hurting NYC," Moby said. "Without 9/11 the US never would've invaded Iraq."
'On That Day'
Cohen's Old Testament vocals are inherently appropriate for tributes to the fallen, and no doubt his glorious 'Hallelujah' was played at many a 9/11 funeral. But the aged singer-poet from Montreal also recorded this minimalist mourning song about "the day they wounded New York." And though this 2004 song acknowledges the enemy had motivations (sins against god, unveiled women, etc) he dismisses them with insouciance. "I wouldn't know," Cohen mutters in his sad, weathered singing voice. "I'm just holding the fort."
'My Blue Manhattan'
Four days before the Sept. 11 attacks, Ryan Adams filmed his video for 'New York, New York' right in front of the World Trade Center towers as a tribute to his adopted adult home. But it's Adam's post 9/11 track 'My Blue Manhattan' that truly pays homage to a city that's been to Hell and back. "Making snow angels in the gravel and the dirt" Adams sings of a paralyzed and shell-shocked New York. "Too hurt to move, too hurt to move / My blue Manhattan."
A number of 9/11 songs were angry, but this rager by the industrial-rock legends, released during the height of the Iraq War debacle, turned its sights on the homeland. Having taken on the first President Bush's New World Order on their 1992 hit 'N.W.O.', Ministry aimed at G-Dub Jr in this "truther" anthem. Al Jorgenson and crew ramp up the stress-inducing soundtrack as the song wonders how jet fuel could bring down the towers, questions the existence of a terrorist threat and purports to "to pull the trigger on the smoking gun." Despite Ministry's seemingly controversial lyrics, 'lieslieslies' was nominated for a Grammy.
Gorillaz Feat. D12 & Terry Hall
Eminem's shock-rap crew were touring across the pond when the towers fell and air traffic was grounded. So they headed into Gorillaz' Kong Studios on September 12 to collaborate with Damon Albarn's cartoon band and the Specials' singer Terry Hall. The result was a rap song infused with a Middle-Eastern musical motif and lyrics about bombs, Osama and "derelict Arabic terrorists in the air. " Though not particularly eloquent, the darkness of D12's words against Gorillaz' black beat captured the shadow that had fallen across the world.
'Hole in the Sky'
Former Blake Babies frontwoman Juliana Hatfield is a Boston based singer-songwriter, but the impact of 9/11 influenced this Northern chanteuse to write 'Hole in the Sky,' from her 2005 album 'Made in China.'"Everybody look up with funeral eyes / Wish you had one more chance to say goodbye" solidifies the world's feelings of remorse after the attacks.
'If This Is Goodbye'
Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris
British ex-Dire Straits vocalist Mark Knopfler penned this emotional duet for his collaborator, Birmingham, Ala.-born Emmylou Harris and the recording session brought her to tears. The song that bridges separate continents and opposing parties, as Harris says. "It's a song that gets beyond anything political, it's a song about those individuals and the tragedy that happened ... It's not a red song or a blue song, it's just about human beings and the terrible things that can sometimes happen." The lyrics are simple, but there's not much to say when those simple words "Are laying around in tatters / Sounding absurd."
'An Open Letter to NYC'
The New York City rap trio's tribute to its hometown from the 'To the Five Boroughs' album celebrates the differences among the city's residents while praising their resilience after the attacks: "Dear New York this is a love letter/To you and how you brought us together." Even the album's cover drawing proudly includes the Twin Towers, signifying that the city, at its core, remained unchanged in spite of all that had happened.